Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Dying Car Audio Business???

As the specialty car audio market tanks, it’s now being reinvented as “vehicle enhancement” sold alongside many other aftermarket offerings

It was the mid 1970s. A few of us were offered a ride home from high school by a friend in his 1971 Camaro. We all envied him with his light green split bumper Z28 — that thing flew. And, it came with an 8-track tape player. So we rode down the road, styling while we listened to BTO on 8 track, “Taking Care of Business.” 

And, there was an aftermarket set of DIY speakers on the rear package shelf. Only thing was, they would vibrate and make all kinds of racket. Little did we know we were in the midst of the car audio revolution.

Car radios go back forever. In the early days people would rig up an aftermarket DIY radio on the running boards. Then the radios moved inside and in the dash. The first was reportedly a 1958 Lincoln. Cadillac was not far behind. People realized they liked hearing music, news and sports in their vehicles. And the aftermarket grew by leaps and bounds by either providing, replacing or improving on the OEM offerings. The growth of car audio installers and shops grew right along. Not that long ago there were two times the number of car audio only shops. 

Racing ahead to now, the car audio market is next to last in the fastest-declining industries. I did some math and found that in my city there are 72,000 people for every one car audio shop. I also checked other cities: Some were a little less and many had far more people per shop. So is this depressing or what? But don’t lose hope, the aftermarket entrepreneurial spirit runs deep.

Let’s say you are a car audio shop and you business is in the tank. The OEMs come standard or optioned with their own systems. Many have proprietary connections, sensors, etc. They have added screens and lots more. The days of the “trunk slammers” who go to install accessories, radios, etc., in the car dealership when a vehicle is sold got a lot slimmer, too.

Well, if you are in the aftermarket, you change the game to be one of “vehicle enhancement.” Working with the strong associations, publications and adding a true certification program for techs, the market has really grown up. The industry has also witnessed the rise of franchising. One of the more recent ones is Tint World. They indicate they have a 250 locations in place or in the works, and look to grow to 600.

Source: Tint World

Wait a second. How could a place called Tint World be a car audio place? Simple. Like independents, the overall car audio installer market has added services, rebranded, and now offer a wide range of services. And while they’re at it, Tint World and others are going residential with their offerings. After all, their techs are bright, innovative and know wiring and audio and visual. 

So, let’s take a look at what an old car audio place is likely to offer or will be offering soon:

  • Light truck equipment including items such as bumpers and lighting
  • Smart technology
  • Paint coverings.  My brother had this done. They wrap a vehicle in a perfectly clear material that enhances the color, shines like no other and protects the paint.
  • Window tinting
  • Safety
  • Performance items, especially add-ons such as cold air intake
  • Performance driveline parts
  • Wheels
  • Tires
  • Customizing details
  • Detailing
  • Supporting what SEMA termed “Overlanding” options and accessories
  • NAV-TV
  • E-Bikes
  • Marine sound
  • Expanded motorcycle enhancement
  • Home sound, security and other “smart” items
  • And more …

All of this is supported by hundreds of well-known and established manufacturers. 

So here’s the thing. Car audio shops and manufacturers are not going away. The industry changes and they are changing with it. They are now all about vehicle enhancement. The customer shares their vision for what they want in a car that isn’t part of the OEM offering and the shop works to help plan what needs to be done. 

And those who were in the car audio business are good at it. They are used to a high-touch customer centric program. And just like car audio was, these are car owners who have no problem spending a bundle to achieve what they want.

The question remains to be answered: What happens to other aftermarket businesses that sell tires, customizing parts, truck accessories and other parts? This shift into vehicle enhancement means segmenting will be by market, such as a plow for your light truck, or some other specialty item in your particularly market. 

If you want a very personalized approach to your exotic, classic, luxury or performance vehicle, there’s a market for that, too. If you are in the tire business, chances are you offer services not available at the other shops. If you are a rust proofer or bed liner outfit (think Ziebart) there is still a market for that. And if you are a trunk slammer, I would go to any of those and get a job.

As an aside, think back a few articles where we discussed the flattening of the aftermarket. We have the identical pattern here. And, we have a huge online presence. All of the services mentioned are done DIY as well for people that don’t have big budgets. Along comes the internet with every form of specialist that will sell to the person has a limited budget. 

From tonneau covers to tires and add-on accessories, they can be had. That’s the reason for MAPs, or Minimum Advertised Price control by manufacturers. So, any vehicle owner will see the same minimum advertised price for a brand X tire, for example, wherever they look. That allows for the shops to compete with online and big box on pricing. The difference is mainly the service level. And nowadays the specialists have installers certified in the various areas. And a great supplier/manufacturer base.

So, no matter what is said, in my humble opinion there is a future for all of us in the aftermarket. Yes, we must change with the times. DIYing some lousy plastic speakers in a 1971 Camaro doesn’t get it done anymore. Today that same car would have a $5,000 sound system, car alarm, navigation, a new paint wrap and who knows what else. Let’s look forward with enthusiasm and expectation. 

At a young age, industry veteran Tom Langer started detailing cars for his family’s dealerships, which then led to work in the jobber and warehouse business, along with a machine shop and auto body shop. He held a variety of positions with an auto parts manufacturer for 10 years, and remained in the industry working with shops, warehouses and manufacturers in research and more. 

Comments are closed.

Bringing you regional and national automotive aftermarket news
Verified by MonsterInsights